August 03, 2018
1 min read

New estimate shows 7% of preterm infants have autism

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Photo of Sachin Agrawal
Sachin Agrawal

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in the general population has been reported at 0.76%, but a study published in Pediatrics suggests that 7% of infants born preterm have ASD.

“It is important for health care professionals to know that preterm infants are at a significantly higher risk of developing ASD,” Sachin Agrawal, FRACP, a consultant neonatologist at King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women and Perth Children Hospital, Nedlands, Western Australia, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “Testing for autism and early intervention should become an integral part of preterm developmental follow-up programs. Studies from low- and middle-income countries are urgently needed given the rapidly increasing survival of preterm infants in those countries.”

The researchers mentioned that injury to the cerebellum in preterm infants is common and that these injuries have a known connection with an increased risk for ASD. They estimated the prevalence of ASD in preterm infants by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis. All studies reported the prevalence of ASD in preterm infants after the use of diagnostic tests.

The median gestation of children in the 18 studies included in the analysis that used ASD diagnostic tools was 28 weeks (range, 25.1-31.3 weeks), and the median birth weight was 1,055 g (range, 719-1,565 g). Children included in these studies had a median age of 5.7 years (range, 1.5-21 years).

ASD was observed in 7% of preterm infants included in the 18 studies (95% CI, 4%-9%), and the researchers noted that there was “probably no evidence of publication bias.”

“We hope that our results will increase awareness about the importance of screening preterm infants for ASD,” Agrawal said. “It is important to ensure that children who test positive on screening tools are further tested with gold-standard diagnostic tools before labeling them as having autism or not.”Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.